The Washington Capitals had a bad week. Not awful, as we will see in a moment, but there is only so much sugar available to coat an 0-3-0 week, the first time the Caps went without a point in a week of more than one game since week 23 of the 2014-2015 season and the first time they went three games in a week without a point since Week 4 of the 2014-2015 season, breaking a streak of 70 straight weeks of hockey without losing all three games in regulation in a week.
It is a good thing the Caps banked standings points over their first 21 weeks, because in Week 22 they faced two storm fronts. One, the Dallas Stars, represented a team that certainly had the Caps’ number on Verizon Center ice. Going into their contest last Monday, the Caps had not beaten the Stars on home ice since a 4-3 win on November 30, 2006. The five-game losing streak (0-4-1) became six with the 4-2- loss. Then there was the annual late-winter trip to the west coast. The Caps had not beaten the San Jose Sharks in regulation time in San Jose since a 4-2 win on October 30, 1993, and they had just two wins (both in extra time) in 15 tries since then. The 4-2 loss to the Sharks on Thursday made it 2-13-0, with one tie, since that last regulation win. Then there were the Los Angeles Kings. The Caps had not won in Tinsel Town since a 3-2 win over the Kings on December 14, 2005. Their 0-4-2 record in the six games following that win became 0-5-2 when they lost to the Kings, 4-2 to close the week.
Offense: 2.00/game (season: 3.21 /game; rank: 3rd)
Two, two, and two. The three games with two goals in each extended the streak of two-goal games to four and to five the streak of games with two or fewer goals scored. In Week 22 the Caps had just one multiple-goal scorer (T.J. Oshie) and one player with three points (Kevin Shattenkirk). Nicklas Backstrom was the only player to record a goal and an assist (1-1-2). Conspicuous by his absence from the points record was Alex Ovechkin, who is just 0-1-1 over his last eight games and has not scored a goal in nine contests. He does not have an even strength goal in 17 consecutive games. This qualifies among the driest spells of his career.
As a whole, the Caps did not lack for launching shots on net. They averaged 57.74 shots per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, more than their season average (56.09; numbers from Corsica.hockey). Getting those shot attempts to the net was the problem. Washington averaged 27.04 shots on goal per 60 5-on-5 minutes, compared to their season average of 29.39. It was no so much the 8.4 percent shooting percentage for the week that did the Caps in at 5-on-5, it was the lack of shots on goal on which that percentage was based.
Defense: 4.00/game (season: 2.12 /game; rank: 1st)
The Caps give up two goals in three games in Week 21 and won three games. In Week 22 they allowed 12 goals in three games – four in each contest – and lost three games. It was not as bad as all that on defense, though. The Caps held the three opponents to a total of 68 shots on goal, the first time they held opponents to fewer than 25 shots on goal in a month (they held four straight opponents to fewer than 25 shots, February 7-18).
It was even better in limiting attempts. The Caps allowed the three opponents just 47.20 shot attempts per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, far below their 53.46 per 60 minute average for the season. Shots on goal followed the same pattern, allowing just 22.91 shots per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 compared to the 27.90 shot attempts per 60 5-on-5 minutes for the season (numbers from Corsica.hockey). It ended up being a bit of a wasted effort, though, with the Caps allowing eight 5-on-5 goals for the week and finishing minus-three in goals for and against at fives.
Goaltending: 3.41 / .848 (season: 2.01 / .927 / 11 shutouts)
It was not a good week overall for the Caps in net. Twelve goals allowed on 68 shots on goal makes for a difficult path for wins. Braden Holtby had a particularly difficult week. He was pulled after allowing three goals on 11 shots in 25 minutes of work against Dallas to open the week, and then he allowed four on 24 shots in the 4-2 loss to San Jose in the middle game of the week. It was quite a slip on Holtby’s part, who in his previous six appearances before Week 22 was 5-0-1, 0.98, .963, with one shutout.
Philipp Grubauer had a better time of it in less than ideal circumstances, stopping all ten shots he faced in relief of Holtby against Dallas, but allowing three goals on 21 shots in the 4-2 loss to the Kings to end the week. He had a respectable 1.96 goals against average in the limited duty, but the .903 save percentage was not especially impressive. Grubauer is in a bit of a lull, too. In his last two full-game appearances he stopped just 39 of 46 shots (.848 save percentage).
Power Play: 1-for-12 / 8.3 percent (season: 21.3 percent; rank: 8th)
The lackluster week did not spare the power play. The 8.3 percent week was the worst for a week with more than one game played since Week 12, when the Caps went 0-for-12. And even with that it was an uneven week. The Caps shot in some bad luck against Dallas on the man advantage, recording 14 shots on goal in 7:34 of power play time without a goal to show for it. They went 0-for-7 against the Sharks in the middle game of the week in 10 minutes, against without anything to show for it. Then, against Los Angeles, they scored a goal on their only power play shot, courtesy of Jakub Vrana. It was Vrana’s second power play goal in five games, more than Alex Ovechkin has had in his last 13 contests.
Speaking of Ovechkin, he was 0-for-5 shooting on the man advantage for the week, but he had four of those shots in the first game of the week, against Dallas. Overall, the Caps had one goal on 22 shots in 21:39 of power play ice time. They managed shots on goal and had next to nothing to show for it.
Penalty Killing: 9-for-13 / 69.2 percent (season: 84.0 percent; rank: 6th)
The power play struggles carried over to the other side of special teams. Not that the Caps have been air tight killing penalties lately, but the 69.2 percent week was their worst in a multi-game week since Week 17, their second-worst week of the season in a multi-game week since Week 1. It is part of a longer slide in penalty killing that has extended over the past seven weeks, over which the Caps are 53-for-67 (79.3 percent).
The Caps did shutout the Stars on the power play to open the week, but they allowed San Jose and Los Angeles to score two goals apiece on the man advantage. It made it three times in four games that the Caps allowed an opponent two power play goals on the road. Overall, the Caps allowed the three opponents four power play goals on 17 shots in 19:08 of shorthanded ice time.
Faceoffs: 106-181 / 58.6 percent (season: 50.3 percent; rank: 12th)
If there was one area in which the Caps did well in Week 22, it was in the faceoff circle. Small victories. The Caps won all three games and all three zones for the week. In fact, the only “losing” point of the week was being below 50 percent in the defensive zone against San Jose (6-for-14).
Five Caps took ten or more draws for the week, and all of them finished at 50 percent or better. T.J. Oshie topped the five at 68.8 percent (11-for-16). Jay Beagle (18-for-30/60.0 percent), Nicklas Backstrom (31-for-52/59.6 percent), and Lars Eller (24-for-43/55.8 percent) were over the 50 percent mark for the week, and even Evgeny Kuznetsov hit the 50 percent mark (15-for-30).
Goals by Period:
Nine periods for the week, and the Caps didn’t win any of them. They split goals in four of the nine periods and lost the other five. Overall they did not so much as break even in any period, finishing with the rare minus in goal differential over all three periods for an entire week. The Caps did manage to maintain their plus-30 or better goal differential in the first (plus-38) and third (plus-30) periods, but the second period (even for the season) remains something of a mystery.
In the end…
By the standards this club has set for it over the past two seasons, Week 22 was about as bad as it gets, even with the annual death march through California and they mysterious inability to beat Dallas on their own ice sheet. But there was a ray of sunshine in it in that the Caps had decent possession statistics. They had the better of 5-on-5 shot attempts, and maintaining that going forward should yield better results than what they saw this week.
All that aside, the Caps had better find a way to translate good underlying production numbers into better performance numbers like goals scored and goals prevented. They are embarking on a four-game week against teams that pose a formidable challenge, from the last game in the California trip against Anaheim to a pair of Central Division powerhouses in Minnesota and Nashville, to a week-ending contest against a Tampa Bay team struggling to reach the postseason. Week 21 saw the Caps’ lead in the league standings dwindle to a single point over the Pittsburgh Penguins, and if the Caps are to keep from dropping out of that top spot in the standings for the first time in two months, they will have to put Week 21 behind them quickly.
Three Stars of the Week:
- First Star: T.J. Oshie (2-0-2, minus-2, 11-for-16 on faceoffs, six hits, three blocked shots)
- Second Star: Kevin Shattenkirk (0-3-3, even, points in all three games, four hits, three blocked shots)
- Third Star: Nicklas Backstrom (1-1-2, minus-1, 31-for-52 on faceoffs)